David Vaux and Andreas Strasser from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research have been awarded the biennial CSL Florey Medal for their work identifying cell death triggers and using them to fight cancer.
The award, which is presented by the Australian Institute of Policy and Science (AIPS), recognises significant lifetime achievements in biomedical science and human health advancement.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Vaux and Strasser discovered the molecular processes that cause billions of our cells to die every day, showing that some cancer cells can evade this process of programmed cell death and thus “fail to die”.
They found that a gene called Bcl-2 keeps cancer cells alive and increases their resistance to chemotherapy. This led to the development of a potent new inhibitor of Bcl-2 that is now used to treat leukaemia around the world.
“I’m proud to share this honour with Andreas,” Vaux says. “Bcl-2 was the spark that ignited a whole new field that has given new insights not only into the origins of cancer but also, as first shown by Andreas, autoimmune disease. But cell death research has only just begun.”
Strasser agrees. “Although our research into cell death and cancer has been under way for decades, it remains for me a vital and exciting field,” he says.
“There still remains much to be discovered and there is a real opportunity to translate the understanding of programmed cell death into improved therapies for diverse cancers.”